Monday, April 19, 2010

New Directions

Hey everyone,

Happy Monday!

This is sort of a difficult topic to post about. First, I want to acknowledge Anne Gallagher and her post "How Do I Say This?" and another post by Scott Mitchell called "Differently." Although their posts don't exactly say the same thing, I think they touch on a similar matter.

The more I learn, the better I get at writing, the less advice I feel the need to give to other writers. Sure, I have a bunch of writing techniques that I've learned over the nine or ten years of writing I've done. But, often, they are techniques that probably only I consider all that valuable. The techniques I've learned have come from my need to solve the unique problems that my own writing creates. Or, the techniques are probably only helpful to beginning writers, and for the most part I feel like the people who poke around this part of the woods--i.e. YOU--have already developed a level of competency equal to where I am on this writing journey. So, in a way, I feel more and more like it's pointless to talk about writing to other writers.

But, then we have a problem don't we? I could NOT talk about my writing, but then I end up with really boring subject matter about how I bought Empress dates at the farmer's market today. Exciting, huh? I know, this is my life!

And, so, I end up talking about writing again, knowing full well that most of you probably don't need to hear what I have to say. And, really, I'm starting to hope that most of you ignore what I have to say for fear that everyone will start sounding the same in their writing.

So, I guess all this is to say that I'm feeling a bit speechless these days. I don't want to waste your time, and so I don't exactly know what to write about. Scott brought it back to individuality. I think that's a great approach. I'll probably do that more, and I'd also like to add that I would LOVE it if the comments sections on these posts become much more freeform. F. P. Adriani has suggested this on her blog a few times (here's one) and I think it's a great idea. So, from here on out, at least for my posts, feel free to ramble, rant, and lose focus in your comments. Write about whatever you want--you don't even have to finish the entire post!

Something else I'd also love to start doing is to "turn the camera around" and start showcasing a bunch of the wonderful writers and wonderful people out in the writing world. And, to start that off, I'd like to bring up F. P. again. Some of you might not recognize that name, but F. P. used to go by Reason Reanimator, a writer who stirred the pot quite a bit around the blogosphere. I know she gets angry a lot, and honestly, sometimes she scares me. But, if any of you out there are willing, I'd love for you to check out more of her work, both in terms of her fiction and in terms of her blog. She may rant, but she's often siding with us writers and defending us in big ways. And her novels, from what I've read, are quite exquisite. In her book After Ann, F. P. really brings back the character-driven book for me. At a time when I think character-driven stories hardly ever exist anymore, F. P. has created a protagonist who seems to pop off the page. She's discouraged enough that her fiction might be hard to acquire these days, but I hope it's still around if anyone is interested.


  1. Ramble? Rant? Awesome! I shall do so.

    Okay, writers write the stories that come to them, right? I mean, some ideas hit, and stick, and are interesting enough to hang on to through a whole novel. Thing is, some writers get ideas for character-novels, while others get huge blockbuster plot ideas. Just different things occurring to different minds, is all.

    So the question of whether one's fiction will sell is almost moot. One has only the ideas that come, nothing else. To try to write things outside your interest, or ideas that don't capture your imagination is to take some of the soul from your work. Says I, anyway.

    It's probably not in the cards for me to write Brown/Ludlum/Meyer/Patterson-style bestsellers, and I have to accept that. I'll just make my stories the best I can, stay true to my (evolving) style, and write, write, write.

    Sales may or may not follow. I'll deal.


  2. I have been feeling similarly lately, Davin - and I recall The Lit Lab started close to when I started blogging last year. It's like a relationship that has hit a brick wall.

    do you abandon it? "divorce it" to use Glam's words? (hi, Glam!!)

    or do you do some therapy and redefine the relationship and forge ahead?

    Maybe I'm wrong here and that's not it at all..maybe I'm just projecting my issues. either way, you encouraged rambling so off I go...

  3. Hello, Davin. As a writer, I value this blog very much. Even if you don't tell me anything about writing that I didn't know before, the discussion still gets me thinking and raising questions that improve my work. So do the comments that follow each post. It helps to just be reminded of certain things, and keep aware of the nuances behind writing rules and concepts, and see all the varied opinions of other writers.

  4. Thank you for the shout out Davin.

    And I have to say, that even though you think you may be rambling on about things you think we may not care about, we, well at least I, do. I may not 'get' the whole scope of some topics but that doesn't matter to me. I like to listen when brilliant people speak. Makes me learn something.

    So as far as I'm concerned if you want to discuss the middle of a donut hole and why it's round, I'll listen.

    I also like your idea of a 'showcase' of writers. There are quite a few fabulous writers out there who need their voices to be heard, not only to garner praise but to share their own ideas on writing. You and Glam and Mr. Bailey do such a great job, but as you said, "I feel more and more like it's pointless to talk about writing to other writers." So let someone else do it.

    I think I've rambled long enough. Thanks.

  5. Why do we blog? I think it's because we write. Sure, we may have started because we heard we need a platform.
    If it's because we write, we can share our inspirations. Suppose we have a lightbulb moment and someone else can share the illumination?
    I'd like to know, for instance, what excites you about those Empress dates and farmer's markets.
    I struggle, too, with what to post or how to make it worthwhile to others. But if anyone can do this thing, it should be writers, right? I always find something to chew on here at the LitLab. There's my rambling rant for the day.

  6. Simon, I have come to feel very much the same way. I do think some people end up trying to write what doesn't come naturally to them, and honestly, in my opinion that's okay too. It just doesn't seem as fun, and for me, sometimes, it feels like pulling teeth. I used to think "What if I spent half my time writing commercial fiction and half my time writing just for me?" That didn't work. I ended up spending all my time writing just for me, and I think that's a lot more personally satisfying.

    Tess, you're not wrong at all. Those are my feelings, and with you and Michelle and Scott and Anne, I see that other people are feeling the same way. It's hard because writing is lonely and I still want to communicate. It's just that I don't know exactly WHAT I want to communicate.

    Genie, well, thanks for saying all of that. And, I must say I do really really really appreciate the people who comment here. It's very touching when people like you write a very thoughtful comment or some that opens up a discussion. I love it that I get called wrong on many occasions.

    Anne, you're very welcome, and I learn a lot from your blog. I'm getting more and more excited about showcasing other writers, and not only other writers but other people involved with writing. This weekend I went to a new used book store and I thought it was very interesting that this supporter of books was also doing something that so many writers despise. I'd love to interview him and get his point of view and share information.

    Tricia, thank you very much! And, I must say that what's great about your posts is that you showcase your own writing in a very personal way. Lit Lab was never really like that because I wanted to be more like a service. But, now, I tend to think your approach to blogging is much wiser.

  7. Great and timely post. I always feel more like, well, when I'm published, or have an agent, I'll be in a position to give writing advice, but right now I'm just like the people who need it. It's good to know there's another writer out there who feels similarly, but has a different perspective. Thanks for this! Can't wait to see what you write about instead of writing.

  8. IMO, hearing your (and Scott's and Lady Glam's) thoughts on writing is very helpful to me--even though I'm a fair way down the writing road. We all come to writing with different backgrounds and strengths. I do well with voice and humor, but not so well with plot. A post on how to pull the strings tight on a runaway plotline would really help me--even though I'm not a beginning writer. (At least I don't think of myself that way, lol).

    Also, this weekend I did some more work on reupholstering the antique chairs I found in my mother-in-laws basement. (Not sure you meant for the rambling to be that far afield of the topic, but there it is).

  9. L. T., thanks, and it's interesting to me that more and more people are talking about feeling this way. I don't judge my experience on publishing these days. I actually feel like the better I get at writing, the less I'm trying to publish. I feel so great about my writing right now, actually, and publishing isn't even on my radar screen much most days. Although, sometimes I do think about it. I appreciate your support!

    Amy, thanks for your support too! And, I honestly think it's so cool that you are reupholstering. That's seriously something I've been very interested in, to the point of asking some stores if I could volunteer to help them. (In the end I had to focus on work and science, though.) When I was going to college at UC Davis, there was an art exhibit that dealt with upholstery in abstract work. It was fascinating so cool!

  10. As you may or may not have noticed, Davin, I didn't even post about writing today on my personal blog. I posted a recipe. Now, what does that say?

    Yes, I know that you and I and Scott feel this way, that we've hit a brick wall, that our readers have outgrown us, in a way. I'd like to think of it that we are simply moving on to another new step where we can stop giving "advice" so much as just talking about our experiences and our writing.

    I think it's a great idea to start showcasing some of our readers, and F.P. is a great person start with. I think her work needs some more attention because it really is brilliant in so many ways.

    Davin, I sense you frustration, but I honestly think this is an exciting thing. This means I can stop thinking of yet another way to say the same writing advice differently. I've grown very tired of that.

  11. Yeah, we’re all cool and stuff because we have 380 blog followers and we get a bajillion page visits each day, but are we bringing anything of value to the table? What would be cool and helpful—not just to Davin, Michelle and me—would be if folks could tell us why they read this blog. What is it that you come to read? What would you like to see more of? What’s not helpful at all? We three are talking about renovating the Literary Lab and making it, possibly, less blog and more…something else. We just haven’t figured out what that something else is. And if it becomes less of a blog, how do we keep the community feeling going? How do we keep up the interaction with all of you cool and groovy people? How does it remain a conversation? We don’t know. Possibly that’s the same question with which all bloggers eventually wrestle. But our team includes a Scientist! And he’s a smart one, too.

  12. Michelle, that's a very uplifting way to think about it. It's strange because for me it is coming from a happy place. I feel like I respect my own writing more and everyone else's writing too. And, in that sense I have less to be critical of, as far as the technical production of writing goes. And I did notice your post! I started reading it and then I got hungry, so I figure I should wait until it was closer to lunch to finish.

    Scott, yes, yes, yes! Reader response on this subject would be great!

  13. Tess asked - or do you do some therapy and redefine the relationship and forge ahead?

    I redefined my blog because, well, I was running out of things to say. And, like Davin pointed out “for the most part I feel like the people who poke around this part of the woods--i.e. YOU--have already developed a level of competency equal to where I am on this writing journey. So, in a way, I feel more and more like it's pointless to talk about writing to other writers.”

    So, I’ve started to take my blog in a new direction, and perhaps a more personal direction, focusing more inward than outward on some posts, and focusing on writerly stuff on other posts.

    The point is . . . aren’t each of our blogs, mainly about us? Didn’t we start them (at least I did) to express ourselves and our journey of writing? Again, I did. So why shouldn’t we delve back inward and write about that journey? Why shouldn’t we write about our frustration about not using words that end with –ly?

    The fact is, we should. So, Davin, what are your frustrations with writing? What are your joys? Why did you write what you wrote? What are you writing next?


  14. Oops, also meant to say thanks for the shout out and link to my blog!


  15. Speaking strictly for myself, I'd like to hear more about the things that happen after a book contract. How much marketing are you doing? Are you spending days and days on the road to do signings? Does your agent require a new manuscript every sixty days? Do they mark it up and send it back? How much fan mail do you get? How do you deal with a negative review?

    I don't see those kinds of posts, but I would find them very helpful.

    David, I'll be posting some progress photos of my antique chairs tomorrow, if you want to stop by.

  16. I rarely post about writing on my blog, so I enjoy The Literary Lab because it gives me a chance to discuss the craft.

    I enjoy posts that are more to the spirit of a lab...give the opportunity to pick something apart, voice opinions on what works (or doesn't work) and why. Since so much of writing is subjective, it makes for a more interesting thread. It gets boring when everyone always agrees on everything.

    Writing prompts could be fun exercises, and can be leveraged to create fodder for analysis.

    Can you tell me (no showing) something using an adverb and a cliche, but make it good? I bet there are plenty of writers among the Lab followers (Lab Rats, I call 'em) who could pull it off.

  17. Thanks for the shout out and compliments, Davin Dear, and thanks for the same to Michelle Dear. Actually, I consider myself as only rarely ranting; I usually inject too many anti-dogma doubt qualifiers (maybe, likely, not likely, possibly, etc.) for bombast. I'm just very passionate, both intellectually and emotionally (yes, I believe intellect-based passion exists). Getting this to come through on a screen or page isn't easy. Most people see passion and automatically equate this with ranting--unfortunately, I think in today's society, passion has slowly been degraded into a negative attribute.

    I have a LOT of personality and passion; I'm so large but the page is so small. In real life what I'm about is more obvious...and if you met me, you'd probably be scared-squared! In a largely dispassionate world (which I think this one is), passion is the most frightening display of all. People must like this though because they have a tendency to wanna be around me in person and ask my opinion of lots of things....

    I hear what you're saying about the direction here. I do prefer when you each talk about your own writing more personally, but then there are newer writers visiting here. So maybe you don't need an either/or direction, maybe you can do both, both controlled posting about general writing-technicals, and uncontrolled stream-of-consciousness posting about whatever.

    Empress dates...hmmmm. Can't remember ever having those. Medjool are my favorite. They're great in raw desserts. And now you've made me crave dates, and I have none in the house. Bok choy from the garden in lo mein will have to do. In my special world, bok choy substitutes for dates. It works every time--oh yeah!

  18. Davin this blog site has really been valuable to me in my journey as a writer. So much of what I read here from all three partners either confirms my own way of thinking, or refocuses me in another direction I hadn't thought of.

    Knowing the rules of craft can be quite different than implementing them in specific scenes in my own writing. Even if you tell me something I already knew, it is a good reminder; because I rarely pick up a book on writing - though there are several in my cupboard - when I run into problems.

    What I do is seek out bloggers who have had similar issues and read their solutions; or the helpful advice from the commenters.

    So I wholeheartedly disagree with your assertion that a writer at your same level can't learn anything from your own experiences.

    And, if you wrote about purchasing Empress dates at the market, I'd still expect you to describe the trip and the people you observed, and how it all made you feel. Yep; writing.

    But since you invited rants: I was disappointed that I had to look for your Six Birds post. I almost missed it. So, in the future, when you participate in blog fests, would you kindly please fill a current blog post with your excellent writing?

    And now I'm late getting back to work from lunch because you've been so interesting. Well, part of that is Simon's fault too.


  19. Also, maybe you could use less structure here--like ease up on yourselves in posting frequency. Do you really have to do a new post every single weekday? Why not do one post from each of you per week? Spread them out more, like maybe two during the week, one on the weekend. Or just on three weekdays. Also (again), that way commenters have more time to develop each comment section* before the next day's post pushes the last comment section down to number two.

    (*This also helps give the bloggers themselves more of a rest; in other words, by letting commenters contribute more of the blog's reading content.)

  20. One final thing, because I came in here too late and it seems most everyone has left for the day (late afternoon slowdowns and all)....

    "And, so, I end up talking about writing again, knowing full well that most of you probably don't need to hear what I have to say."

    --Even if people don't need to hear what you have to say, they may still want to hear it. I'm not sure most writers here (or wherever) read writing blogs out of need, but just maybe out of companionship. Like they can't listen to or talk to nonwriters and get the same experience as they do with writers. What you said about loneliness is also the issue here, I think.

    Also, if your writing's been going good lately, and you've got nothing to say except that, people probably DO need to hear that. At some point, writers must develop some confidence. And they need some confidence-containing role models.

    Rick brought up what works--I've said here before that I think knowing when you've written something that works is probably more important than knowing when you've written something that doesn't work; a piece of writing must be filled with what WORKS. Writers should become experts on what works. But writers can spend too much time alone feeling doubt-filled about their writings. I think doubt is excellent and necessary during revising. But there are limits to the amount a writer should experience. If the doubt starts making a permanent bed in the first-drafting stages, this is bad generally....

    To me, it sounds like your writing's been going well--good for you! Keep everyone updated there.

  21. ...Maybe I shoulda put "what works" in quotes. Or maybe I should add "what works for them as individual writers writing specific-to-and-from-them writings."

  22. I may not comment much but what I enjoy is hearing about your experiences and how you go about things. Whether it is talking about the farmers market to what you are writing. Much is revealed in the process of writing about a situation. I learn something new each time.

    Just because it may not relate to writing in a direct way, doesn't mean what you say isn't relevant to life or the craft of writing. Does that make sense. I don't think it is pointless to talk about writing with other writers -especially those still learning, like me. The blog really reflects your personalities and it all does come down to individuality. Most importantly - what makes you happy.

  23. I'm fairly new to your blog. I stumbled upon it, and the information was helpful to me. I've linked to it, and I visit a lot more than I comment. Has it all been said before? Maybe it needs to be said again. Sharing the things that you've learned may seem egotistical and unnecessary, but it is helpful, especially to people who are new to this genre.

  24. Wow, thank you everyone for such great feedback and comments! We appreciate it a lot.

  25. I haven't been reading the literary lab long, but I like the sense of community that you have here. It feels more like a teachers lunch room where writers can kick back and discuss their craft than a water cooler where people chat about the latest episode of 24.

    I will always be learning and trying to improve my craft. However, I'm not interested in this site repeating what's been said before but more observing the challenges that you and others are working with and the growth that you are achieving.

  26. Scott M., That wasn't why I started the blog, but more and more and I'm seeing the relevance for it. Honestly, most of the time I'm just scared my own writing problems will be really boring to everyone else.

    Amy, I look forward to seeing your work! There are a couple of reason I have for not talking so much about contracts and publishing and agents. The most important reason is that I currently don't have an agent. But, Scott does, for example, so he could talk about it here. I also feel, though, that you can find that information in other places, by people who know a lot more about the subject than I do. A lot of agents have blogs of their own, and so I tend to leave it up to them. And, it was actually one of those agents that inspired me to write about writing. He said he'd talk about publishing so we could talk about the writing.

  27. Rick, I think you make a good point. When I can, I try to post on topics that I think people can chime in on, topics where other writers also voice their opinions. I'm not sure about the writing prompts, though. I've never been one for the prompts.

    F. P., I am a big fan of passion, and I think you're right that much of the world (including myself at times) lacks passion. I think fear often leads to a lack of passion, and it's a shame. The man at the farmer's market said the Empress dates were less sweet than the Medjool dates. I don't necessarily prefer less sweet, but I figured I'd give these a try.

    Donna, Ha ha, well thanks for your comments and your rant. I do appreciate your support for the lab. I'm sorry about the Six Birds post. The story was rough (like 5 minutes rough) and I felt the need to tuck it away into an old post so it didn't get too much attention!

    F. P. (again), changing the schedule is something we are discussing. I do think it could be a good thing to post less frequently, for everyone concerned. And, yes, my writing has been going well!

    Robin, thanks for your thoughts. I agree that, in the sense you're describing, almost anything can be educational writing-wise. :)

    Shelli, thanks, and I'm glad that some new people like you are stopping by. Thanks for commenting and letting us know, and I hope you comment more often with your own viewpoints on topics we bring up!

    Aidan, I think you've summed up both what we want from this blog and what we're trying to make it. I also love the sense of community here, and I think all three of us really want to make sure that doesn't go away. Maybe the thing that has been getting me caught up is that I feel like new challenges (and their solutions) aren't coming up frequently enough. So, at times it can feel stagnant as I'm trying to focus my vision or as I keep trying to solve the same problems over and over again. That's when I fear I'll repeat myself.

  28. Davin - writing problems aren't boring, they're, well, eye-opening. You're writing problems might be the same or similar to mine, and knowing that someone else is experiencing something similar is freeing in many ways. The knowledge provides a sense of comfort that a person isn't out there alone, having these problems, and that there is someone, somewhere who understands what he/she is going through.

    I know I've found comfort in the blogsphere and a sense of community, and part of that 'sense' is in knowing that other people are experiencing similar things.

  29. Hmmm, I need to find those Empress ones then. As time goes on, more and more I've been losing a taste for very sweet foods. And the Medjool are very sweet, too sweet for eating alone. I can only rarely eat them that way now. They're just really good and tasty used as a natural sweetener in the raw desserts. Then the sweetness is distributed around, not so dense. And when I do eat them alone, I like that they're very moist-chewy. I just can't eat more than two or three then because of the sweetness.

    So have you tried the Empress ones yet? Are they really not that sweet? Are they very dry though?

  30. I shall ramble.

    I dunnano why I read this blog. At times I think the posts can be insightful. Other times not so much. Sometimes I just like to read the comments and/or ensuing discussions. Often I'm procrastinating when I should be writing.

    I like the rain, which is complete unrelated to the topic above as strawberries are unrelated to rain. But I'm thinking about those now and may I'd like to eat strawberries in the rain. Insert shrug. Maybe I come here because I can write arbitrary comments like this.

    I think writing prompts might be a good idea. I might participate. On the other hand I stop coming. I had to drop EE like grandmother's lederhosen because I need to finish the ideas I've already started. My grandmother doesn't wear lederhosen. And yes I am ROFL over that one. Don't ask. Its better for everyone this way.

    Try some book reviews, try writing prompts, maybe post news like contests and "stuff" and even let us submit stories to be published on the blog. If you build it right, they will come. If you don't, they won't come. They left that part out of a Field of Dreams.

    Or if isn't broke, don't fix it. That one is good too.

  31. I read this post while I was supposedly unplugged two weeks ago and haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Maybe it's because I have been thinking about my blog lately, its role, its place in my writing life.

    My main response to your post is this: you mentioned that as you've grown, your need to offer advice has lessened. It is true, isn't it? That we often teach to find out things for ourselves? Or when we teach, we realize we've been subliminally figuring some unknowns and discover how they fit as we teach? I completely get what you're saying.

    But what if you don't consider what your write here as offering advice? What if you just shared them because you've thought about them, experienced how they work, and found them meaningful? Would you not consider sharing those thoughts from one writer to his peers?

    It is not pointless to talk about writing to other writers. Each of us discovers things at different times in different ways. Everything we've learned we can reconsider. We may not need to hear what you say sometimes but it's good for a community to share. And I don't think we would all sound alike in our writing because we read about how not to use "and."

    I miss the posts you used to do. And I would ask you to re-consider your decision.


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